Diet and radiotherapy

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After a diagnosis of any cancer it wise to generally improve the diet. Along with other lifestyle issues such exercise and giving up smoking, scientific evidence has showed that a healthy diet  is likely to help to:

Otherwise during radiotherapy no specific dietary changes are needed unless specific symptoms develop. The chance of developing a side effect during radiotherapy depends on

Apart from generally improving the diet no specific measures are required addition a healthy diet could help to improve the quality of life during radiotherapy by helping with specific symptoms such as weight gain, weight loss, nausea & poor appetite, diarrhoea, constipation, breathless, altered tasteindigestion and dry mouth

Help with general early side effects

Radiotherapy may require a change of diet in some circumstances depending on what area of the body is being treated and how much dose it is receiving. Specific advice can be found on the individual radiotherapy advice sheets but the following general factors may be considered:-

Your appetite may be affected particularly if a large part of your body is being irradiated, especially if associated with some nausea. If so, try to eat several small meals rather than three large meals a day. Drink lots of fluid - try to double your normal fluid intake. If you are worried about diet ask your radiographer to refer you to a dietician. In the mean time advice on lifestyle and poor appetite may be helpful.

Your bowels may become loose later in the treatment, possibly causing diarrhoea. If this happens, cut down your intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre and try to increase your intake of eggs, milk and other dairy products. You should continue with your normal diet unless you begin to get diarrhoea.  Report any diarrhoea to the doctor or radiographer as it may be necessary for you to have tablets. Take these until the diarrhoea improves and then reduce them. Some dietary tips would also be helpful. Your bowels should have returned to normal 2-3 weeks after treatment. You can then gradually re-introduce fibre into your diet until you are back on a normal diet.  

You may experience pain on opening your bowels (rectal pain). Occasionally this may be associated with some blood in the stools. In this situation try keep the stools soft and avoid constipation as this will irritate the lower rectum. (lifestyle and rectal damage)  


Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

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